Source: Pact, by Theresa Alessandro
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of Pact, this week ensured that the voices of prisoners are included in the synodal process. Pact, the Prison Advice and Care Trust, is the national Catholic prison charity.
In response to the Cardinal’s request, Pact facilitated his visit to HMP Wormwood Scrubs where he explained to a group of prisoners that he particularly wanted ‘to listen to those who can often be forgotten’.
Sitting together in the prison’s beautiful, large chapel, the men spoke with the Cardinal about the miracles of Jesus and the value of being able to spend time together in prayer, bible study and at Mass. They shared their struggles with additional isolation during necessary Covid restrictions, and their concerns about the effect of this on their family relationships, especially for their children. Some expressed fear and anxiety about finding a welcome in parish communities on their release.
Watching the men approach the Cardinal one by one to receive a simple wooden rosary and a blessing at the end of their time together was a deeply moving example of the ‘encounter’ Pope Francis calls us to.
Fr Chima Ibekwe has been the Catholic Chaplain at the prison for six years. He described how the work of the multi-faith chaplaincy has adapted during the pandemic when at times the men have been confined to their cells for 23 hours a day to try to prevent the spread of Covid. The chaplains have actually spent more time on the prison wings, making themselves personally available to the men and providing much-needed individual pastoral support.
In fact, when the Pact team had discussed with Acting Governor Dom Ceglowski the viability of the Cardinal’s visit, in giving his full support the Governor referred to its pastoral importance at this time. During the visit, the Governor, senior staff and the whole chaplaincy team joined the Cardinal for refreshments and a further opportunity for encounter. Father Chima said his ‘heart was touched’ by the interest in meeting the Cardinal from so many staff including those who were not people of faith.
In the Family Visitors’ Centre, which Pact designed and built and which can be found on the main road just outside the prison, Pact staff and volunteers explained their family support work to the Cardinal. The Cardinal also heard about Pact’s new FamilySpace initiative, which is open to families and children across London affected by the imprisonment of a close family member. Over Christmas, 40 children with a father in prison made use of the service, having fun with baking and other activities, whilst their mums accessed advice and support from Pact workers.
On behalf of HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Father Chima presented the Cardinal with a picture that included the words from Matthew’s Gospel: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’ – words which resonated so powerfully with those of the prisoners who had already said to Cardinal Nichols, ‘Thank you for coming here.’
Pact’s CEO, Andy Keen-Downs, said, ‘This was an important and moving occasion that went to the heart of Pact’s role as an agency of the church – supporting prisoners and their families to make a fresh start.’
Pact’s Faith in Action team is working to inform and encourage Catholic communities to better walk alongside prisoners, people with convictions and their families.
Find out more on the PACT website: www.prisonadvice.org.uk
Or by contacting Theresa Alessandro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consider making a donation: www.prisonadvice.org.uk/donate
More about FamilySpace – www.prisonadvice.org.uk/familyspace